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Final day of free clinic, more than 6,200 patients seen so far

May 3, 2010 | 11:39 am

Monday marks the last day of a seven-day free clinic at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena that has drawn thousands of needy patients and hundreds of medical volunteers.

As of Sunday, clinic volunteers had treated more than 6,200 patients, nearly as many as they treated at their eight-day clinic last August at the Forum in Inglewood. Many patients were chronically ill and in need of basic services such as teeth cleanings and eye exams, including Anthony Obregon, 50, an AIDS patient from Santa Fe Springs.

Those who got appointments had waited hours for wristbands entitling them to treatment. Many, such as Charlie Foster, 55, of Temecula, then showed up before dawn on the appointed day to ensure they made it inside.

Clinic volunteers had provided 4,061 dental visits, 794 podiatry visits, 378 mammograms, 507 pap smears and 1,090 HIV tests, organizers said.

Organizers had hoped to treat 8,400 patients. They nearly doubled the number of medical exam rooms, from 25 to 40, added dental chairs and attempted to recruit twice as many doctors, dentists and other medical professionals.

During the first five days, volunteers treated 5,279 patients, a 41% increase from the same period last year, when they treated 3,747 patients. But each day they fell short of the 1,200 patients they hoped to treat. On Sunday, they saw 946 patients.

Part of the problem was that many patients needed multiple services, particularly dental, leading to long lines that slowed treatment especially at the start of the clinic, organizers said.

Each day, hundreds of patients who did not complete treatment were allowed to return later in the week. Volunteers expected to treat at least 600 such patients Monday.

Adding to the delays was a shortage of medical volunteers early on. Although many volunteers, including Dr. Reza Danesh, an emergency room physician at California Hospital Medical Center, said they heard about the clinic well in advance and found it better organized than last year, local medical groups did not raise awareness or turn out in force.

On the first day of the clinic, 66 dentists, 23 doctors and four nurse practitioners volunteered, organizers said, far short of what they had hoped. Those numbers picked up over the weekend after organizers issued public pleas for help, but not by much — on Saturday, 83 dentists, 49 doctors and 14 nurse practitioners volunteered.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena

Click on the highlighted links above to watch interviews of each person discussing their experience with the  free clinic

Click for complete Times coverage of the free clinic